Kage Baker adored Robert Louis Stevenson. She adored his writing, both fiction and travelogues – he travelled a lot, especially for a guy with emphysema and bronciectasis; and he usually did it on the cheap, because he was chronically broke.
This was a guy who defied his nice upper-middle-class family of engineers and bridge builders, to become a travel writer and then a novelist. Quelle horreur! Plus, he married a divorced American lady who was older than he was, had children by her ex in tow, and was decidedly not a member of the Scottish Covenanter Kirk. His family did not respond to his shenanigans with an outpouring of money.
None of that stopped Stevenson. By foot, by rail, by boat and by cranky grey burro-back, he explored writers’ colonies and art communes all over Europe. Then he wrote books about them. He came to America to beg the older lady (whom he met in a French artists’ commune) to marry him; he took up writing travelogues in order to pay for housing and food while the lady (her name was Fanny) – who was somewhat taken aback by her gaunt, pale, hacking suitor – tried to figure out what to do with him.
Kage thought this was a gloriously romantic love story. All the better that it was real, and by the man who wrote one of the first real psycho killer stories AND the best pirate stories ever. And the entire last act of their courtship took place in California, and mostly in Monterey.
Stevenson loved Monterey. So did Kage. Her devotion led her to become a retro-stalker: she went over every inch of Monterey to find all the places where Stevenson did … stuff. Any stuff. She found where he lived, where he took his meager meals and did his best to live on brandy, where he bought salve for his horribly excematous hands, where he hung around his lady-love’s hotel and made calf’s eyes at her windows.
Further searches took her (well, actually I took her) back and forth through the Northern California wine country, where the Stevensons – once married – took their honeymoon in a deserted silver camp that can only be reached by a wooden staircase and ladders up a hillside. However, first place in her heart was claimed by Monterey; because by the time she found it, it was had weathered all sorts of economic and political storms to become the beautiful, antique-rich city it is now.
Monterey has the largest number of extant adobe buildings in the United States. The hotel Stevenson lived in is one of them; I know most of its inches, and Kage knew them all. Joaquin Murrieta lived there in his blameless youth. That idiot Fremont occupied the place in defiance of a treaty with Mexico. It has sidewalks made of ancient whale vertebrae. It has the oldest theatre in California. Its cemataries are full of ghosts and geese (Run. From the geese,). And for a while, it was the capitol of California. Stevenson wrote about that, too.
I also love Monterey. Being here without Kage makes me feel like half my skull is filled with styrofoam peanuts instead of brain tissue, but hey – I only need enough to plot and type, right?
So I am here now, in this birthplace of pirates and arena of cockeyed lovers, pounding the keys of my Buke like a good girl. Of course, I am writing this for you Dear Readers, instead of a flashback/prequel scene for “Pareidola” ,,, but don’t worry. The back left quadrant of my mind is worrying away at it. I shall break out in a description of Egyptian bureaucracy at any moment: Joseph-as-Imhotep inventing the government-enforced ratio calculations for the statues and paintings of the gods that actually messed with the worshipers’ brains. And that later have been used to produce the Byzantine icon that makes mortals go mad or drop dead, and that makes Joseph’s brain itch …
The new opening came to me at dinner, via the invaluable Neassa. We were scarfing down Mexican food and watching the lights of Sand City across the Bay contest with the moonlight on the waves. I was whining about writing a flashback scene – ’cause I hates them, I hates them forever! – and Neassa said, So put it at the start instead of partway through. Then it’s not a flashback, it’s a current event. You ought to have some time travel somewhere in here.
It must have been the steak burrito. She said it was amazing. That’s what I get for eating girly food like giant shrimp in green olive tapenade. Neassa now gets all the chocolate the turn-down service left us. She deserves it.
More tomorrow, Dear Readers, as I lock myself into my hotel room soI have to write. Excelsior!